Second Reformed Church

Wednesday, April 09, 2014

"The Holiness of God as Comfort" Sermon: Psalm 22

“The Holiness of God as Comfort”

[Psalm 22]

April 6, 2014 Second Reformed Church

            “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?  Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning?  O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer,             and by night, but I find no rest.”

            I cried out to God in the midst of my suffering.  I repeated the Name of God – in Hebrew, when you repeat a name, it means that you have intimate knowledge of the person – like when I cried out in grief for my son’s death, “O Absalom, O Absalom!”  God and I are known to each other – God chose me – the least of my father’s sons – to succeed Saul as king of Israel, but in that moment – I was in such distress – I didn’t understand – where was God?  My enemies were all around me – pressing me in – they were not far from taking my life – and God – God – the God I know and love – He had forsaken me – I was all alone in my suffering.

            I groaned to God, and God did not save me.  I called out to God day and night – praying and pleading and begging for salvation, but He left me in my suffering.  I was all alone.

            At least that’s how it seemed.

            I know now that my words were prophetic – they would be spoken by God, our Savior, Jesus, as He truly suffered God’s forsaking Him.  After hanging on the cross for three hours, we read:  “And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, ‘Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?’ that is, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’” (Matthew 27:46, ESV).

            Jesus had to truly be forsaken by God – God had to truly walk away and desert His Son on the cross so He would suffer the full weight of God’s Wrath for our sin – if that hadn’t happened, we could not be saved.  As much as we can’t fully comprehend how the One God could desert One of His Persons – we can attempt to grasp the horror of what happened:  from before the beginning – the Trinity was in perfect harmony and love and communion with Each Other – the One God – and in that moment – One Person was ruptured from that communion – they were separated for the one and only time in all of eternity so that the Holy Son of God could suffer the full horrors of Hell for every sin of every person who would ever believe in Him for salvation – eternal Hell times the whole of the elect, inflicted on Him – ruptured from the Father and the Spirit – in a single moment.

            That suffering is part of why we are now one with God and know that we will never be forsaken.  As Jesus promised:  “I will never leave you nor forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5, ESV).  In the greatest moment of distress and suffering that we have in this life, as believers in Jesus, God the Savior, we never have to suffer the forsakenness that Jesus did.  He has promised to walk with us – as I wrote, “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me” (Psalm 23:4, ESV).

            But that is not what sustained me in that moment – what sustained me and comforted me was fixing my eyes on the holiness of God:

            “Yet you are holy, enthroned on the praises of Israel.  In you our fathers trusted; they trusted, and you delivered them. To you they cried and were rescued; in you they trusted and were not put to shame.”

            I thought about the history of the people of God and how God has shown Himself to be Holy to us.  God is Holy despite our circumstances.  God loves His people and saves His people as He wills, but to truly forsake us – to turn His back on us and leave us without hope would be to go against God’s own Character.  God cannot break the promise He made to our father, Abraham, and to all those who believe in God and come into the covenant that God made.

            That is why we lift up praises to God – He is our God, and He cannot break His promise to us, because He is holy.  He is making us His people, and He has promised:  “And I will establish my covenant between me and you and your offspring after you throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your offspring after you” (Genesis 17:7, ESV).  And so there is hope in the midst of the worst suffering – even though it should feel to us as though God had forsaken us.

            But, if we look at the history of God’s dealing with His people, what we see is that God is always faithful, and so we have reason to trust in God no matter what occurs.  That is why – in these two sentences – I reflected on our fathers and how they trusted in God – three times I mentioned that they trusted in God – because God had proved Himself worthy of trust.

            In the midst of praise, God is worthy of trust – as we rejoice and give thanks for the blessings that God showers down on us, God is worthy of trust.

            As we are disciplined for our sin and as we suffer for other reasons and turn to God and cry out for Him to save us, God is worthy of trust.  God hears us, even when it seems like He doesn’t – the answer may be, “no” – but, ultimately, God rescues His people, if only in the Kingdom.

            And as we trust in God – despite any sufferings and disciplines that we endure – God has not put us to shame when we have trusted in Him and been obedient to Him and witness Him before the nations.

            If we look at our lives now – especially in the light of the Savior Who has come – God has never been our problem.  God has always been Holy.  God always keeps His Promises.  God can always be trusted.

            “But I am a worm and not a man, scorned by mankind and despised by the people.  All who see me mock me; they make mouths at me; they wag their heads; ‘He trusts in the LORD; let him deliver him; let him rescue him, for he delights in him!’”

            From the first day, the evil one and his followers have plotted against us and looked to have us turn away from God – to doubt His trustworthiness – to doubt His Holiness – to get us to test God as the last resort of our suffering, rather than trusting Him through whatever we endure.

            In the midst of it all, I felt that the only suitable place for me was to be in the ground under the feet of my enemies.  I doubted God and shrank under their persecution.

            As it turns out, this was prophetic about the Savior – not that He doubted God or felt sinfully low, but He chose to come to earth to endure mistreatment for the sake of all those who would ever believe in Him, and His tormenters challenged Him and tried to get Him to doubt that His Loving and Holy Father was bringing about the best for Christ Who loved Him.

            Isaiah prophesied about the Savior and His treatment as well, “He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not” (Isaiah 53:3, ESV).

            Hear the record of what Jesus endured:  “Then two robbers were crucified with him, one on the right and one on the left. And those who passed by derided him, wagging their heads and saying, ‘You who would destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days, save yourself! If you are the Son of God, come down from the cross.’ So also the chief priests, with the scribes and elders, mocked him, saying, ‘He saved others; he cannot save himself. He is the King of Israel; let him come down now from the cross, and we will believe in him. He trusts in God; let God deliver him now, if he desires him. For he said, “I am the Son of God.”’ And the robbers who were crucified with him also reviled him in the same way” (Matthew 27:38-44, ESV).

            “Yet you are he who took me from the womb; you made me trust you at my mother's breasts.  On you was I cast from my birth, and from my mother's womb you have been my God.  Be not far from me, for trouble is near, and there is none to help.”

            As I reflected on my own beginnings, I found reason to trust God and take comfort in His Holiness – as I wrote:  “For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother's womb.  I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.  Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well.  My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth.  Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them.          How precious to me are your thoughts, O God!  How vast is the sum of them!”  (Psalm 139:13-17, ESV).

            God worked through my parents to create me.  God caused the biology to occur that I would be conceived in my mother’s womb.  God caused the cells to divide and form into my body.  Every moment and day and year of my life is written in God’s book – God knows every step I will take and every thought that I think and God is watching and guiding and leading me where He would have me go.

            When the time was right, God delivered me out of my mother’s womb, and I was brought into the world, and took my first breath – and God provided for my care and physical sustenance through my mother – John Calvin wrote that the physiology of a woman with regards to the conception, birth, and care of children is a “wonderful providence.”  God designed my mother to be able to provide for me from herself.  The God Who created the intricacies of the body and sustains its working is the Wondrous God.

            Since God caused me to be created, and formed my body, and provided me with a mother to care and sustain me, I know that from the moment of conception – even in my mother’s womb, God has been my help – and, as Jesus said – He has never and will never leave me nor forsake me.  I am His forever – to the glory and praise of God.

            And so we know that all those who believe in Jesus Alone for salvation are cared for by God.  God cares for our welfare – and that should cause us to rejoice.  And as we remember God’s favor shown to us – from the very moment we began in the womb, we ought to find our strength growing – our hope growing – our trust in the Holy God growing.  It is a comfort to know that – not only will God never leave us nor forsake us – but He never leaves us nor forsakes us because He cares for us and is sustaining us until we are received into His Kingdom on the last day.

            “Many bulls encompass me; strong bulls of Bashan surround me; they open wide their mouths at me,       like a ravening and roaring lion.  I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint; my heart is like wax; it is melted within my breast; my strength is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue sticks to my jaws; you lay me in the dust of death.  For dogs encompass me; a company of evildoers encircles me; they have pierced my hands and feet— I can count all my bones— they stare and gloat over me; they divide my garments among them, and for my clothing they cast lots.”

            That’s not to say that my suffering wasn’t real.

            It was like I was being attacked by wild animals.

            North of the Sea of Galilee lies Bashan where there are mighty and fierce bulls – it was as if I had been set upon by these bulls – encircled by them – with their mouths open ready to have at me!

            It was as if I had been surrounded by hungry and angry lions – ready to pounce on me and tear my flesh apart.

            It was as if a pack of wild dogs had set upon me and cornered me, ready to make a meal of my flesh.

            I might as well have been water poured out on the ground – I was that close to it being all over – my bones felt out of joint – I was in terrible pain, and I had almost given up hope – my heart melted away as though it were wax – my thirst became so strong, it was as though I was a dried out piece of pottery – my tongue stuck to the roof of my mouth for lack of fluids – and I lay in the dust as they encircled me.

            I was trapped – as though my hands and feet had been nailed to the place I was hiding – I couldn’t move.

            I was starving – so long on the run – I could count my ribs.

            They knew I was trapped.  They stared at me and gloated over me.  The King of Israel – hiding in the dust – they looked forward to taking my royal robes and dividing them amongst themselves.

            And again, this all turned out to be prophetic of Jesus, our Savior.

            As Jesus prayed in the Garden and asked His Father – and our Father – if there was any other way to accomplish the salvation of God’s people, we read, “And he withdrew from them about a stone's throw, and knelt down and prayed, saying, ‘Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done.’ And there appeared to him an angel from heaven, strengthening him. And being in an agony he prayed more earnestly; and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground” (Luke 22:41-44, ESV).

            Jonathan Edwards explains that Dr. Luke was not just using a metaphor when he wrote this, but he was recording a true medical condition – that when a person is under such extreme stress, it is possible to burst blood vessels under the skin, so that when he sweats, the blood mixes with the sweat and look like great drops of blood as it falls to the ground.

            Although Jesus received the Will of the Father that He had chosen to follow when He incarnated, the claustrophobia of the trials must have been like being surrounded by animals to Him – first by the Sanhedrin and then Pilate and his men, and then Herod, and then Pilate again, and then all the disbelievers at the foot of the cross – chanting and mocking and taunting Him.

            And then to be flogged – to be whipped with leather embedded with rocks and glass, then forced to lie down on the cross while they pounded spikes through His Hands and Feet, only to be thrust up into the air and jarred down into the hole which held Him between heaven and earth, where He saw that everyone had run away – except for a few of the women and John.

            Matthew records, “When the soldiers had crucified Jesus, they took his garments and divided them into four parts, one part for each soldier; also his tunic. But the tunic was seamless, woven in one piece from top to bottom, so they said to one another, ‘Let us not tear it, but cast lots for it to see whose it shall be.’ This was to fulfill the Scripture which says, ‘They divided my garments among them, and for my clothing they cast lots.’  So the soldiers did these things,” (John 19:23-24, ESV).

            Holy Jesus did this for everyone who would ever believe.  To the glory of the Father and for our comfort, He endured unknown cruelty.  Can we not take comfort in knowing that the Only One Who could possibly make us right with God has done this for us that we may take comfort in these words of Jesus, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:28-30, ESV)?

            We turn to our circumstance and understand that what we endure – thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior – what we endure – is ultimately light.  It is nothing compared to what Christ endured for us – and that should spur us to praise and to seek our comfort in Him.

            That is not to say that our suffering and persecution aren’t real – or serious – nearly our own crucifixion – in that moment, trapped by the pagan beasts, I thought my life was at its end.  Indeed, we can come to the very edge of death – we may even die – we may fall deeply into the deepest depths and not know how we can possible survive our circumstances – that’s when – in addition to trusting – we need to call out to God.

            “But you, O LORD, do not be far off!  O you my help, come quickly to my aid!  Deliver my soul from the sword, my precious life from the power of the dog!  Save me from the mouth of the lion!  You have rescued me from the horns of the wild oxen!”

            As I was surrounded by these beasts and knew nothing more to save me from my training either as a shepherd or in my learnings as king, I pleaded with God to intercede for me against these wild animals who would gore me and take my life – and God interceded.

            The author of Hebrews reminds us that we can come before our Great High Priest, Jesus, and pray to the Father:  “Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:14-16, ESV).

            And Jesus tells us that we are not to give up, but to persist in prayer:  “And he told them a parable to the effect that they ought always to pray and not lose heart. He said, ‘In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor respected man. And there was a widow in that city who kept coming to him and saying, “Give me justice against my adversary.” For a while he refused, but afterward he said to himself, “Though I neither fear God nor respect man, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will give her justice, so that she will not beat me down by her continual coming.” And the Lord said, “Hear what the unrighteous judge says. And will not God give justice to his elect, who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long over them? I tell you, he will give justice to them speedily. Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?”’” (Luke 18:1-8, ESV).

            Our Father hears our cry for help, and He will answer our prayer.

            The Lord heard my prayer and He delivered me from my oppressors, and, so, I gave Him thanks:

            “I will tell of your name to my brothers; in the midst of the congregation I will praise you:  You who fear the LORD, praise him!  All you offspring of Jacob, glorify him, and stand in awe of him, all you offspring of Israel!  For he has not despised or abhorred the affliction of the afflicted, and he has not hidden his face from him, but has heard, when he cried to him.”

            The expression I used here means to “abide” in thanksgiving.  Thanksgiving is not temporary – we are to continually give God thanks – just as I gave thanks to God both in the palace and in the Temple.

            God loves His people and condescends to speak to us and to save us.  That’s what Paul was writing about when he wrote, “Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men”  (Philippians 2:5-7, ESV).

            God has not cast us away, but came to earth in the Person of Jesus that we would be saved through Him.  And so, He loves us and helps us when we call to Him.

            “From you comes my praise in the great congregation; my vows I will perform before those who fear him.  The afflicted shall eat and be satisfied; those who seek him shall praise the LORD!  May your hearts live forever!”

            It is God Who enables me to praise Him among my fellow believers.  It is God Who enables me to keep the promises I have made and to be obedient to Him.  And so it is God Who gives food to those who are afflicted and in need – God is my deliverer – He is your deliverer.  So we have every reason to praise Him today and forever.  May our thankfulness endure for all of eternity in praise to our God.

            “All the ends of the earth shall remember and turn to the LORD, and all the families of the nations shall worship before you.  For kingship belongs to the LORD, and he rules over the nations.”

            The Lord calls people to believe in Him from the four corners of the earth – and they shall believe.  And people from every nation and tongue shall worship the Lord and bow down before Him because God is the Sovereign – the Universal King.  And so we are blessed to be members of His family and servants of His court.

            “All the prosperous of the earth eat and worship; before him shall bow all who go down to the dust, even the one who could not keep himself alive.”

            In the end, all of humanity will be brought to an equal footing before the Lord:  the rich who have eaten well shall bend the knee to worship our God.  Those who have suffered and been persecuted in this lifetime shall bend the knee and worship our God.  And those who have not been able to survive, but, in the Providence of God have died before His Return, shall bend the knee and worship God.

            I as the king of Israel shall bend the knee and worship our God.  I as the persecuted refugee who nearly died and cried out to God in my desperate circumstances shall bend the knee and worship our God.  And I as a man born in sin who died and returned to the dust shall rise to bend the knee and worship our God.  I, with you, and all of Creation, shall bend the knee and worship our God.

            I pray you believe while you have time and that you do not hesitate to tell others:

            “Posterity shall serve him; it shall be told of the Lord to the coming generation; they shall come and proclaim his righteousness to a people yet unborn, that he has done it.”

            Our posterity shall serve the Lord, our God.  I want my children and your children to believe and receive the salvation of our God – don’t you?  If you do, then we must tell the coming generations.  We must tell them that there is a God Who loves His people and saves us from our tribulation and saves us from our damnation – from the wages of our sin.

            We must tell of the comfort to be found in our Holy God to the future generations – the God Who has proved Himself through His Righteousness.  We must tell the coming generations that God is faithful and has proclaimed His salvation through Jesus Christ – and He makes us righteous for His Name’s Sake.

            Let us pray:

            Almighty God, in the midst of our trials, let us remember that You have not forsaken us, because Jesus was forsaken for us.  In the midst of our persecution, let us remember that You are Holy and Trustworthy and have secured our eternal comfort through Jesus.  Deliver us according to Your Providence; hear our prayers.  Lift us up that we may praise You and thank You and tell of Your salvation to every person and nation and to the succeeding generations – that the Savior Who is prophesied in this psalm has secured salvation for all those who will believe in Him.  For it is in His Name that we pray, Amen.

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